Any diagnosis of cancer is overwhelming – there are tremendous implications for one’s health, family, and quality of life. But when women hear they have breast cancer and that they will lose one or both of their breasts, the emotional toll is extreme. In addition to the worries about health and family are added concerns about how you will look and feel, and how others will react to you. Because many women identify their femininity with their breasts, losing one or both breasts may make you feel less of a woman.
Some women choose breast reconstruction because they feel it allows them to return to as “normal” an appearance and lifestyle as possible. Some women find the mastectomy scar constantly reminds them of the breast cancer. Other women prefer not to wear an external prosthesis (artificial breast) for a variety of reasons. Reconstruction of a breast is one of the most rewarding surgical procedures available today. New medical techniques and devices have made it possible for surgeons to create a breast that can come close in form and appearance to matching a natural breast.
Reconstruction is possible immediately following breast removal (mastectomy), so the patient wakes up with a breast mound already in place, having been spared the experience of seeing herself with no breast at all. Not all women will have mastectomies. Some will choose lumpectomy and irradiation. Nor will all women having mastectomies want the additional procedures involved in breast reconstruction.
The Reconstruction Procedure
Your surgeon will decide whether your health and medical condition makes you an appropriate candidate for breast implant reconstruction. Women with small- or medium-sized breasts are the best candidates for breast reconstruction. Breast reconstruction can be accomplished by the use of a prosthesis (a breast implant, either silicone gel or saline-filled), your own tissues (a tissue flap), or a combination of the two. Women with larger breasts may require reconstruction with a combination of a tissue flap and an implant. Your surgeon may recommend breast implantation of the opposite, uninvolved breast to make them more alike (maximize symmetry) or he/she may suggest breast reduction (reduction mammoplasty) or a breast lift (mastopexy) to improve the symmetry.
Mastopexy involves removing a strip of skin from under the breast or around the nipple and using it to lift and tighten the skin over the breast
Reduction mammoplasty involves removal of breast tissue and skin. If it is important to you not to alter the unaffected breast, discuss this with your plastic surgeon, as it may affect the breast reconstruction methods considered for your case